University's mobile app streaming idea has enterprise IT potential. But, oh yes, there's that security annoyance.

Purdue University has an interesting mobile concept, a means to free up lots of space that is now housing apps and app data. Why not, the university asks, stream the apps themselves from the cloud?

security access / authorization / login credentials / username / password / mobile phone
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Purdue University has announced an interesting mobile concept, a means to free up lots of space that is now housing apps and app data. Why not, the university asks, stream the apps themselves from the cloud?

Let's let the school explain its own idea: "New software streams data and code resources to an app from a cloud server when necessary, allowing the app to use only the space it needs on a phone at any given time. 'It’s like how Netflix movies aren’t actually stored on a computer. They are streamed to you as you are watching them,' said Saurabh Bagchi, a Purdue University professor of electrical and computer engineering, and computer science, and director of the Center for Resilient Infrastructures, Systems and Processes. 'Here the application components, like heavy video or graphics or code paths, are streaming instantly despite the errors and slowdowns that are possible on a cellular network.' Bagchi’s team showed in a study how the software, called AppStreamer, cuts down storage requirements by at least 85 percent for popular gaming apps on an Android. The software seamlessly shuffles data between an app and a cloud server without stalling the game. Most study participants didn’t notice any differences in their gaming experience while the app used AppStreamer. Because AppStreamer works for these storage-hungry gaming apps, it could work for other apps that usually take up far less space, Bagchi said. The software also allows the app itself to download faster to a phone. The researchers will present their findings Feb. 18 at the 17th International Conference on Embedded Wireless Systems and Networks in Lyon, France." (Note: This press release was written before Feb. 18.)

First off, let me stress that this app wasn't designed with enterprises in mind, so any concerns I might express could be fairly criticized as being strawman arguments. That said, the concept of freeing up space on an enterprise device — and especially a BYOD device that only gets a small partition for handling any business data and apps — has potential.

In general, of all of the enterprise complaints about mobile, insufficient space has been rarely heard in the last year or two, as handset manufacturers have sharply increased memory while app-makers have done better at shrinking their footprints. Still, IT is a greedy bunch, so squeezing more out of a finite phone is always of interest.

But unlike the Netflix example, move downloads generally don't worry end users too much about security. As long as the end user gets to see the movie in good quality, he or she doesn't care if bad guys out there are also watching and getting free content. The notable exception might be porn, where privacy of viewing choices becomes a concern. Getting back to enterprise IT (where, naturally, no porn is ever watched) security issues, streaming enterprise data and apps from a consumer-grade cloud is not a good idea.

Let's flip the question, though. In an enterprise BYOD situation, if streaming corporate data and apps is a deal-killer, why not encourage employees to use something like AppStreamer to stream their personal apps and data, theoretically freeing up more space for the corporate partition to do its business fun? Is there reasonable potential there?

A problem I see is that other than doing web searches, much of the convenience of mobile devices is that they can perform many of their functions in a non-wireless environment, such as driving in a dead zone. Even more appropriately, consider instances where the mobile user goes out of the way to enter a dead zone (a.k.a. using airplane mode with Wi-Fi shut down) when the user is working on something sensitive and doesn't want anyone sniffing into the phone. In short, the ability to actively use app executables and downloaded data is a big advantage for an enterprise device. That would interfere with any app or data streaming.

Back on security: even if the enterprise were able to set aside the concerns about the cloud's security itself (worries about someone breaking in), there is still the issue of the consumer-grade cloud provider itself. Does your CIO and CISO want your sensitive data to exist outside of your device, on-prem systems and their hopefully heavily vetted enterprise cloud environment?

Beyond data leakage fears, there are a host of compliance privacy issues about allowing enterprise data to exist elsewhere. But if mobile memory space is an issue and employees are willing to try this on the consumer side of a BYOD phone, this might eventually have serious potential. 

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